Monthly Archives: March 2016

Review: The Miracles of Jesus

When it comes to Christianity, inevitably the topic of miracles will come up. Vern Poythress, professor of New Testament interpretation at Westminster Theological Seminary, presents four main issues (though there are more) the that come up in the debates about miracles:

  1. The existence of God. If God doesn’t not exist, then miracles certainly do not exist.
  2. What kind of God- Is God a distant, deistic God? If so, he’s irrelevant to our daily living.
  3. The credibility of miracles in the Gospels. Can we even believe the Gospel’s authors? Didn’t they merely write to turn Jesus into a legend?
  4. Who is Jesus? Was he really the Messiah? Or a good prophet? Maybe he was a nice guy, who told stories, and ‘legends’ just don’t hold up.

Sure, we could go into more detail, but already we have a lot to work with in terms of discussing miracles with non-supernaturals. But even in Christian circles is the question, “I believe these miracles are real, but how should I read them?” What does this have to do with me, if anything at all? And this is the question Poythress aims to answer.

Outline

The book is broken up into four parts:

  • Part One: Introducing Miracles
  • Part Two: Miracles as Signs
  • Part Three: Miracles in Matthew
  • Part Four: The Resurrection of Christ and its Application

Throughout his book, Poythress shows that Jesus’ miracles help reveal God’s purposes. They show

  1. Jesus is God.
  2. Jesus is fully human, and as a human being performed miracles in a way analogous to the miracles of Old Testament prophets.
  3. Jesus is the Messiah promised in the Old Testament, the one mediator between God and man” (Kindle Location, 370-373).

What do the miracles in the Gospels have to do with us today? Poythress states that the miracles represent redemptive analogies. They are “small stories of redemption [which] point especially to the climax of redemption in Christ’s crucifixion, death, resurrection, ascension, reign, and second coming (KL, 405-406).

The Gospel miracles weren’t only applicable to those people in that time, and while we aren’t going to experience the same miracles simply by reading the miracles in the Gospel, they do point to greater truths: Christ’s crucifixion, death, resurrection, ascension, reign, and second coming. We need Christ just as much those who lived in Jesus’ time.

Poythress’ purpose is to “show the nature of these redemptive analogies. God has built redemptive analogies into history” (KL, 418-430). Poythress  spends chapter three looking at most of the miracles in John’s Gospel and how they point to Christ’s redeeming cross work. His next two chapters look at Christ’s sacrificial, redeeming cross work as already being embodied in his life (Mk 10.45), and how the Christian life is to be  patterned after Christ’s life, death, and resurrection (Rom 6.4-6).

Screen Shot 2016-03-24 at 8.23.01 AM

Chapter six covers the “typological reasoning” about miracles (how miracles ultimately point to Christ’s redemptive work on the cross). [Picture]. Chapter seven looks at the broader implications of Jesus’ miracles. John 6 describes the feeding of the 5,000 and how Jesus is the bread of life (a la Deut 8.3). Ultimately, the miracles and power of Jesus should give us reason to glorify God. Chapter eight looks at four specific (hypothetical) applications (cleaning dishes, disciplining a child, failing a big chemistry test, and finding fulfillment in a new relationship) and how Christ’s work can encourage us now.

In Part Three, Poythress spends 28 chapters on the miracles in Matthew’s gospel. While he doesn’t examine all that goes on in the miracle, he briefly states the context, what it meant for the person then, how it points to Christ’s work, and how that influences our life today.

In looking at Jesus walking on water in Matthew 14.22-23, Poythress says,

Application of this miracle to us in the gospel age depends on two prongs of continuity: (1) Jesus is the same divine Lord who has power over the sea and over death. (2) People have wavering faith, which mixes faith and unbelief. Their wavering faith is analogous to what happened with Peter. Jesus lives in heaven, victorious over death. By the Holy Spirit he reaches out his hand into people’s lives, as they cry out, “Lord, save me.” He pulls them out of the sea of sin and death. We praise him that in his mercy he is willing to strengthen our wavering faith. And he is able to rescue us absolutely, because his power rules over everything.

Conclusion

Poythress should be applauded. Though he has taught at WTS for 39 years, this book is extremely easy to read. It’s academic without being very academic which should appeal to a broad audience. The chapters in Part Three are quite short due to Poythress having to cover so many miracles, but he gets to the point without waffling around for a while or getting into needless textual discrepancies (which a broad audience would not want to read). This would be helpful for the high schooler, the average layperson, and even for the pastor (though, that depends on how much you read regularly).

I’ve never studied much through Matthew, so Poythress’ work here is helpful. From strange and obscure to the mighty and amazing, what do we do with these miracles today? How can we use them to help those around us? How do they lead us to a greater love of God? They point to the power of God through the Holy Spirit who brings new life in Christ.

“No human being has the power to change the heart. Only God does. He has demonstrated that power in the miracles of Jesus. And he continues to demonstrate that power as he applies the healing of Jesus’s death and resurrection to all kinds of situations of human sin and human need” (K.L., 3030-34).

Lagniappe

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Crossway (January 31, 2016)
  • Author: Vern Poythress

Buy it on Amazon!

[Special thanks to Crossway for allowing me to review this book! I was not obligated to provide a positive review in exchange for this book]. 

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Review

Review Lecture, ‘Mark’ by Rikk Watts

Rikk Watts is a full-time teacher at Regent College, and is known for his work on the Gospel of Mark and his book Isaiah’s New Exodus in Mark. He wrote the 100,000 word contribution on Mark to Carson and Beale’s Commentary on the NT Use of the OT [CNTUOT] and will be replacing Lane’s volume on Mark in the NICNT series. And word on the street says Watts is writing two books: Jesus and the Mighty Deeds of Yahweh (lecture here) and Heaven on Earth: an Introduction to the Christian Vision.

This is the second of Watts’ lectures that I’ve been able to review (see my review on Isaiah). This time I wanted to learn about Mark from one of the experts. I’ve been interested in Mark’s Gospel ever since I co-taught it at CCBC York in 2014. Ever since then I’ve stocked up on a number of commentaries, anticipating when Watts’ volume will see the light of day. I had the pleasure of partnering with Lindsay Kennedy (see his review of Watts’ class lectures here) in one of his Mark classes last fall and I found Watts to be extremely helpful in understanding Mark’s message.

Mark

As I’ve mentioned before, in his book Isaiah’s New Exodus in Mark, Watts opens up Scripture to the reader to see how Mark wrote his Gospel around Jesus’ fulfilling of (can you guess?) Isaiah’s Second Exodus. While I have yet to read INEM, Watts’ contribution to Carson and Beale’s CNTUOT convinced me to his position. His contribution is packed full of both grammatical and theological information, which seems like Watts is full of “heady” information about God and his Word. Yet listening to Watts’ is an entirely different experience. While his genius still comes out, his application comes straight from the principles of the text.

What relevance does a 2,000 year old Gospel have for us today? To pray like Jesus we must live sacrificial lives where we pick up our crosses to serve humbly (9.28; 10.45). I am to cut off that which causes me to sin. How do I see other people and how do I treat them? Do I humiliate them? Do I regard them as nothing? Or do I give them the most importance? Watts application cuts to the quick, and it’s the kind of application we need. Watts proves that a deep study and understanding of the Bible and a heartfelt relationship with God are not mutually exclusive.

Watts looks at Mark’s Gospel as being both a masterful work of literature. He is aware of how words and phrases are used throughout Mark. A “marketplace” seems like such an obscure word, but Watts sees that Jesus, the true Shepherd (6.34) and glorious Lord who walks on water (6.48), heals the sick in a marketplace (6.56). It was in the first exodus where Israel found out they were supposed to be holy, and here, following the New Exodus theme, Jesus teaches the marketplace Pharisees (7.4) about true holiness. He is the healing glorious Lord, and those who follow him are both holy and to live holy lives that honor him.

Watts also looks at Mark’s Gospel as being a historical document about the true living Son of God. And because these characters are real and situations tense, Watts uses this understanding to explain why Jesus does what he does. For example, in Mark 14 Jesus sends two disciples to find a man carrying a jar of water (which would be rare). They are to follow him and talk to him about something “the Teacher” has said. Watts believes it is pre-arranged (the room would already be furnished and ready, v15), and given that Jesus is a wanted man (the Jewish leaders were trying to trap him in Mark 12), it makes sense that Jesus would work in the shadows. He still had to have one last meal with his disciples before he picked up his cross.

Watts believes the Gospel of Mark was written by Mark, before 70 AD. Unlike his Isaiah class, Watts’ doesn’t delve much into the views of other scholars, and when he does his discussion is brief. That being said, he doesn’t always finish class where he intends and often runs out of time only to have to catch up in the next class. He always makes it work out well, but I was disappointed with his treatment of Mark 13. It’s an extremely difficult passage for many Christians and scholars, and I was hoping to hear a thorough (as far as is possible in a classroom setting) of Mark 13. Watts reads all of Mark 13 as having to do with 70 AD, and I especially wanted to hear about 13.26 (“And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory”). Instead, because of the way Watts spaced out the other classes, Mark 13 had to be split between two classes (Lectures 11 and 12) with both parts being rushed.

Though not a major downside, I was disappointed that the Mark lectures didn’t come with a handout like the Isaiah lectures did. The Isaiah handout PDF was 96 pages long. The Mark handout PDF is only 4 pages long (with a little bit extra on page 5). The handout for Isaiah helped hold my attention during the lectures as I was able to follow along while giving me plenty to look up after the lectures were finished. Since the lectures are not a book, it is difficult to go search and find the right spot where Watts speaks on a particular text. And since there is no handout, I would suggest that you take notes while listening to his lectures (though in my opinion, you should be taking notes anyway).

Conclusion

If I could ever recommend lectures on Mark, it would be ones taught by Rikk Watts. Watts certainly has a solid understanding of the Gospel of Mark. He is a biblical scholar who considers deeply both the biblical text, its teaching on God and his gracious character, and its application to our lives. Even though he rabbit trails a bit, Watts gives you plenty of good information to think about, and one can hear that he really loves the Lord. Watts studies God’s word and uses the Bible’s theology to shape his views on life so that he can teach us how we are to live before and serve our holy, loving, and glorious God.

Lagniappe

  • Speaker: Rikk Watts
  • Date: Winter 2014
  • Length: 27h 17m
  • Product ID: RGDL4404S

Previous Posts

  1. Was the Rich Young Man Really ‘Almost’ Righteous?
  2. Our Response to Parables

Outline

  1. Introduction; Prologue: Mark 1.1-13
  2. Prologue: Mark 1.1-13
  3. Mark 1.14-45
  4. Mark 1.2-3.35
  5. Mark 4.1-5.43
  6. Mark 6
  7. Mark 7.1-8.21
  8. Mark 8.22-9.13
  9. Mark 9.2-50
  10. Mark 10
  11. Mark 11.1-13.31
  12. Mark 13.32-16.8

Video

Classes

(Sometimes these are on discount at certain times of the year. Along with these Watts has quite a few free lectures). 

[Special thanks to Regent College for allowing me to review this class!]

1 Comment

Filed under Jesus and the Gospels, Mark, Review

Our Response to Parables

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve been listening to Rikk Watts’ lectures on the Gospel of Mark. Watts is well-versed in Mark’s Gospel, and he’s currently writing a commentary on Mark in the NICNT series.

When it comes to the parables, there is a wide range of views on what Jesus was trying to convey. What is a parable? Is it pure allegory? Is there only one meaning? Are there multiple meanings? Many think that parables are an “earthly story with a heavenly meaning,” but that places too much of a dichotomy in Jesus’ words as if he had a Gnostic ideal where we were to shed our earthly self to reach our heavenly life.

In the Beginning…

We must first ask the question, “Why did Jesus speak in parables anyway? What purpose did they serve?” The first use of “parable” in Mark is in 3.23, “And [Jesus] called them to him and said to them in parables, ‘How can Satan cast out Satan?’” Jesus poses this question against the Jerusalem leaders who believed that the miracles he performed were really the works of Satan.

In Isaiah 6 (esp. vv8-13), Isaiah’s call initiates the judgment that the people have brought on themselves (Isa 1-5). Because they have rejected Yahweh, Isaiah’s preaching would cause the hearts of Israel to be hard. In Mark, the Jerusalem leaders have called judgment upon themselves by grouping the actions of the Messiah with that of Beelzebul, the prince of demons.

Sowing the Word

In Mark 4 Jesus begins with the Parable of the Sower, which contained themes that would likely have been familiar to his audience. 4 Ezra 9.26-37 (a pseudepigraphical work) speaks about Yahweh sowing the law after the first exodus out of Egypt. The Jewish fathers received the Law from Yahweh, but they didn’t follow it. As a result, they went into judgment and exile (2 Kings 24-25) which would require a second exodus (Isa 40-55).

Watts argues that Mark shapes his Gospel around Isaiah’s second exodus, and here the words of Jesus, Yahweh in human form, are having the same affect as they did in the book of Isaiah. Those who reject Jesus will end up in exile (Mk 13) and judgment (Mt 25).

Listen!

In Mark 4.3, at the beginning of the Parable of the Sower, Jesus says, “Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow.”

Watts points out that Jesus doesn’t say “Listen!” often. The critical point is that you must listen, and if you don’t understand how this works, then you won’t understand how the others work (v13).

According to Watts, the point of the parables is: (1) to reveal the mystery of the Kingdom, and (2) to reveal the nature of JC’s hearers’ hearts. This is what the whole Gospel of Mark is doing. Mark is teaching his readers about the promised kingdom of God which is coming through the Son of Man (Dan 7.13-14, 15-27), and you are being shown whether or not you care as you read Mark’s Gospel. In reading and listening to his Gospel, Watts contends that we are being put on trial. How will we respond to Mark every time we read his Gospel?

The response to Jesus’ parables passes judgment on the hearers (e.g., David’s response to Nathan’s parable [2 Sam 12], Israel’s response to Isaiah’s vineyard parable [Isa 5]). Starting from the Garden of Eden, Israel has a long history of thinking they are better than they really are. They say, “I’ll trust God… as long as it makes sense.” Adam and Eve didn’t think God’s word made much sense when it came time to take their test (Gen 3.1-6). The same goes for Israel immediately after the Exodus (Ex 32.1).

However in Mark’s Gospel no one understands Jesus! Jesus doesn’t make sense. Even his disciples have trouble understanding him, yet they still follow him despite they’re lack of understanding. The only way to deal with your arrogance and self-reliance is to follow Jesus even when he doesn’t make sense.

Idolatry and Hard-Hearts

The nations ask, “Where is their God?” (Ps 115.2). And we reply, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Ps 115.3). “Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps” (Ps 135.6). Those who turn to and follow after lifeless idols become ones who cannot see, hear, nor speak.

Their idols are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.

They have mouths, but do not speak;
eyes, but do not see.

They have ears, but do not hear;
noses, but do not smell.

They have hands, but do not feel;
feet, but do not walk;
and they do not make a sound in their throat.

Those who make them become like them;
so do all who trust in them.

(Ps. 115.4-8; cf. 135.15-18)

Rather than following lifeless idols and becoming like them, we follow the one who does whatever he pleases. We can be like him. He gave us his word for us to know and to use wisdom so that we may live in a way that glorifies him. Humans are made in the image of God, but when we worship idols, we lose our humanity. We lose our ability to perceive and know how to live.

Watts calls Christianity the true humanism. It is only by being Christians, by trusting in Jesus as our Savior, that we can be who we were truly created to be.

Parables take away our security blankets. Parables show us what we really think about Jesus and his message.

Previous Posts

  1. Was the Rich Young Man Really ‘Almost’ Righteous?
  2. Review Lecture on ‘Mark’ 

1 Comment

Filed under Biblical Studies, Isaiah, Jesus and the Gospels, Mark

Was The Rich Young Man Really ‘Almost’ Righteous?

If you’ve been reading my posts for a while, you may remember my series on Rikk Watts’ lectures on Isaiah. Rikk Watts, NT lecturer at Regent College, is currently writing a commentary on Mark in the NICNT series. The focus of his dissertation was on Mark’s use of Isaiah’s second exodus (Isa 40-55; 56-66). Now I’ve been listening to Watts’ lectures on Mark, and when Watts taught on the rich young man in Mark 10, he took a different perspective from what I’ve always heard.

Growing up I’ve only heard one perspective on the rich young man. He was rich, he was young, and he was self-righteous. He didn’t really keep the whole Law. He simply wanted to pull-one over on Jesus, or at least he was so deceived he really thought he had kept the whole law. Yet Jesus sees straight through his facade. Knowing the young man is covetous and greedy, Jesus tells him that he must sell his belongings, those things that keep the rich man from Jesus, and follow Jesus so that he will have eternal life.

The Other Way

But Watts doesn’t think that’s what’s happening at all. Instead, Watts sees Mark presenting the rich young man in a positive light.

The rich young man “knelt before” Jesus and calls him “Good teacher” (v17). He’s not a scumbag. He believes that Jesus can tell him how he can have eternal life. And Jesus asks, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone” (v18). His answer to the rich man to follow him (and not Torah) implies that he is equating himself with Yahweh.

Jesus points first to the law and gives a list of commandments that the rich man should know: don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t bear false witness, don’t defraud, do honor your parents. But the rich man has kept all of these from his youth. While this sounds farfetched, Paul says that when it came to “righteousness under the law,” he was “blameless” (Phil 3.6b). This doesn’t mean Paul nor the rich man were perfect, but that they were faithful to God by keeping to the Jewish laws and sacrifices.

Good, You Lack One Thing

In verse 21, Mark doesn’t say, And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘You lie.’” Instead, Jesus says, “You lack one thing; go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” For the rabbis, “lacking nothing” was the mark of a truly righteous man. Jesus doesn’t require anyone else in Mark to do this. Why is this?

People can tell the difference between someone who wealthy and righteous and someone who is wealthy and rotten. For the Jews, keeping the law and having money was a genuine sign that someone was righteous. Watts believes this guy is being told to let go of his reliance on both Torah and all of the brownie points (material wealth) that testify to his being a truly righteous man from a Jewish point of view. He “kept the law and has shekels in the bank to prove it” (Watts, Lecture 10).

Watts says that if the rich young man really was selfish, the disciples would say, “Well, we know why he isn’t getting in. He’s selfish!“ They know about the oppressive wealthy (10.42), but here they are surprised! If this man has kept the law, he has money, but he can’t gain eternal life, what on earth can the disciples do?

But Many Who Are First…

But many who are first will be last, and the last first” (v31). This rich man, who is first in everyone’s eyes, is now last because he refuses to follow the one who is greater than the Torah, Jesus Christ. But the disciples, who were low in everyone’s else’s eyes, and who would become lower because they followed the one who would be crucified, will be first.

But how can this be? They are not the best disciples. They do not understand Jesus’ teachings (4.10). They’re hearts are hard (6.52). They care little about those whom Jesus cares much about (6.36-37). They do not yet understand (8.21), and Peter rebukes his Teacher (8.32). They can not cast out a demon (9.18), and they do not pray with a heart of humility (9.29). They all want to be on the top (9.34).

The disciples will have eternal life so long as they follow and listen to the Beloved Son of God (Mk 9.7) who was crucified for our sins (15.39) and was risen from the dead (16.6).

“With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God” (v27).

Previous Posts

  1. Our Response to Parables
  2. Review Lecture on ‘Mark’ 

3 Comments

Filed under Biblical Studies, Jesus and the Gospels, Mark